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Reflections on #CancerFilm

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Cancer: The Emperor of all Maladies: What Ken Burns’ #CancerFilm Brought to Light

“Getting cancer is one of the worst economic things that can happen to you in the U.S.” – Peter Bach, MD

Last week, the cancer community took to social media in droves as we live-Tweeted and posted with a collective energy we had never witnessed in the cancer space. Ken Burns’ documentary, based on the book by oncologist researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee, was to this community as the Oscars are to the red carpet-watching crowd.

Over the three-night broadcast, a total of 54,898 tweets using #CancerFilm were posted – this doesn’t include posts that discussed the film but didn’t use the dedicated hashtag. Alicia Staley, three-time cancer survivor and CEO of Akari Health, was one of many to issue a rallying cry to watch as a community, posting, “Watching the #CancerFilm — Would love to connect with other cancer survivors here on FB!”

To be sure, many parts of the series were difficult to watch, especially having lost many friends to cancer along the way, and some moments were overwhelming as they brought back personal memories of many dark days during treatment. But this groundswell of interest in the subject matter, and how many people it affects from all walks of life, gives us hope that one day, there will be a cure for cancer.

Like the book on which it was based, the documentary covered a lot of ground, from the early days of cancer treatments and outdated thinking (such as quarantining a cancer patient for fear of contagion) to immunotherapy and newest clinical trials. We were particularly interested in the financial aspects of the discussion, which is at the heart of everything we do at The SAMFund.  Dr. Bach’s quote at the top of this post really says it all – there is a lot of talk about the costs of cancer itself – but we know the financial aftereffects extend way beyond just the time in treatment.

Cancer fundamentally changes the finances of families, which is why our grants, webinars and Financial Toolkit are so important not only to the survivors who benefit directly, but also to their spouses/partners, parents, and children as well. Receiving support at exactly the right moment can change the course of someone’s cancer experience — and the ripple effect of that support can be felt by the community around that person, too. So many of our SAMFund alums have gone on to become medical providers and advocates, and so many others have been able to rejoin the workforce, pursue advanced degrees and contribute to society in so many ways. Basically… it’s a win all-around.

It was an intense three days of watching the series (and boy do our fingers hurt!), but we were left feeling hopeful, better informed and incredibly grateful that there was additional recognition of financial toxicity as a result of treatment.  Most of all, we are inspired to do more for young adult cancer survivors than ever before.

Did you watch the series? What did you get out of it?  Anything you wished to see included, but wasn’t?  We’d love to continue the conversation to keep it moving forward.

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